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Week of: January 14, 2001

First President Invoked God's Blessings

by F.R. Duplantier

When George W. Bush delivers his inaugural address this week, he'll be continuing a practice begun by George Washington 212 years ago.

In his first inaugural address to Congress on April 30, 1789, President George Washington offered his "fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aid can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good," our first President confided to members of the new House and Senate, "I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States," Washington declared. "Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. . . ."

Washington expressed his confidence that "the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism" of the new Senators and Representatives would ensure that "no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interest [and] that the foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality." The Father of our Country reminded the assembled legislators that "there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness" and warned that "the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained."

President George Washington concluded his first inaugural address to Congress by "resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend."

The President of the United States paying homage to God for "every public and private good" -- such a gesture struck no one as quaint, inappropriate, or ill-mannered 212 years ago. As he himself noted, Washington took for granted that his colleagues and countrymen shared his sentiments; nor is there any indication that he was ever contradicted in this regard. But how many Congressmen today would even understand these sentiments, much less endorse them? We've come a long way, baby -- but in the wrong direction.


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